Treatment Bound: A Ukulele Tribute to The Replacements
Minneapolis' Replacements were one of the most beloved and influential of late 20th Century underground rock bands, thrilling a generation of dispossessed 80's rock kids with their explosive but catchy punk-infused songs and consciously erratic live performances. Nashville's Bright Little Field has taken some of the best 'Mats repertoire and reinvestigated it via high energy ukulele-based readings on Treatment Bound: A Ukulele Tribute To The Replacements released by Bar/None Records September 18.
While the Replacements never sold as well as any of the many bands they inspired, the remarkable songcraft of bandleader Paul Westerberg permeated repeated generations of rambunctiously ambitious rockers. Westerberg was that rare writer that impressed both his elders like Alex Chilton, REM, and Glen Campbell as well as up-and-comers like The Pixies, Nirvana…and now Bright Little Field!
Bright Little Field are a pair of musicians from different generations who knew each other from Nashville's burgeoning punk/rock scene of the 1980's-90's and shared an affinity for the music of the Replacements, Tom Littlefield and Jonathan Bright. Tom had released two albums of high octane Southern jangle on a major label with a group called the Questionnaires. They shared stages with everyone from X to .38 Special and yes, the Replacements, whose mature output caught his attention. Jonathan experienced the 'Mats in his early teen years and gravitated to their earlier punkier stuff. Thanks to his work with the band Swing Bright secured a publishing deal with Warner Chappell… and a few years later also opened up for Westerberg and company.
Tom eventually got off the road and dove into a career in songwriting -- the lifeblood of the Nashville business. He wrote for Polygram and wheeled and dealed his way around town to the point of burn-out. Along the way he scored big with Brooks and Dunne. He also had cuts on albums by Shawn Colvin and Kim Richey and provided harmony/background vocals for Todd Snider, Steve Earle and Maura O'Connell. Then he discovered the ukulele.
"Many years ago when I was just starting out, I'd hang around the Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa run by the legendary 'Cowboy' Jack Clement. Roger Cook used to do all his demos there" explains Tom (Cook is a British songwriter who penned a diverse range of chart hits including "Long Cool Woman" "I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing" and "I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman") "Roger Cook is one of my favorite songwriters and he wrote everything on ukulele. That left an impression on me and I thought one of these days I'm gonna get a ukulele. It took me quite awhile to get around to that. Years later Roger told me people would laugh at his ukulele until he told them all the hits he had written on it."
Meanwhile self taught multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Bright had mastered every punk/heavy metal lick in the book and was looking for new instruments to conquer. He stumbled upon a Martin ukulele in his parent's house that his Dad had bought in Hawaii while serving in the army in the 1960s. After his stint singing, writing and recording with a number of hard rock outfits Jonathan built his own back yard studio and began producing and engineering. Most recently he has finished working on an album with Bill Lloyd and co-wrote and produced "The Moon Song" for Raelyn Nelson that features her grandfather Willie Nelson. Of course, a ukulele is prominently featured.
"I taught myself some chords and started sneaking it onto some sessions I did," says Jonathan. "Meanwhile, Tom was actually learning to play one properly. We ran into each other at a party, hadn't seen each other in 15 years, and started talking uke. We got together and he showed me a few things, that's when I suggested we do a couple of 'Mats tunes for kicks."
The thing about ukulele is many things can come off as sounding like novelty but there is something about Westerberg's writing that really works with the instrument. There's a level of melodic complexity to his stuff, great counter rhythms and lines that underscore the lyrics that are really the standards of their time descended down from Cole Porter by way of Hank Williams.
The first song they tried was "I Will Dare" and it just clicked. With Jonathan producing the bulk of it, the duo interpreted ten Replacements' classics including "Androgynous" "Kiss Me On The Bus" and "I'll Be You." The band pressed up a limited amount of copies in a simple slip sleeve and sent them out to various music industry movers and shakers.
Music Supervisor Michael Hill. who was the Replacements' A&R guy at Warner Brothers Records. was impressed and placed their version of "We're Comin' Out" in an episode of "Nurse Jackie" (it's now the album opener). Peter Jesperson who managed the Replacements in their halcyon days passed a copy on to Bar/None. With two new recordings added -- "Can't Hardly Wait" and "Achin To Be" -- the album is getting a proper release complete with a cover art homage to the Replacements brilliant middle finger-flippin' "Bastards of Young" video (a single shot of a kid smoking a cigarette on a couch while a stereo speaker throbs).
"It casts their music in an entirely new light" said Tommy Womack, an early Bright Little Field supporter. "An aspect of Westerberg's songwriting was his use of truly insane open tunings that allowed him to make dense chordal clusters and take the guitar melodies to inventive place. I can listen to BLF's versions of "Little Mascara" and "I'll be You" and hear the melodic and choral complexity in a way that the Replacements' sturm and drang made it more difficult to appreciate sometimes."
"It took me 25 years to finally buy a ukulele," laughs Tom "but I'm glad I finally did."
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Howlin' Wuelf Media 215-428-9119